Ithaca College’s current policies for responding to mental health crises do not fulfill the needs of each individual student and need to be reassessed. The college has done well communicating all the available resources for students, including the 24-hour crisis hotline and the on-campus counseling opportunities. Currently, the college is changing procedures and addressing the concerns the community has expressed for a while. These concerns arose after students had to witness their peers being escorted to Cayuga Medical Center by Public Safety, sometimes in handcuffs, if deemed a danger to themselves or others. These policies are changing — students are now transported to Cayuga Medical Center via ambulance rather than in a Public Safety vehicle. This change is commendable, but it cannot heal the traumatic experiences that countless students have suffered at the hands of Public Safety officers.
Public Safety is an essential part of ensuring that everyone’s safety is taken into consideration. While officers should remain a part of the response team to mental health calls, Public Safety officers should not always be the first responders in a situation in which a student is experiencing a mental health crisis. Oftentimes, when a student is feeling extreme mental anguish, having Public Safety officers yell at them through their doors can push them into a further state of mental distress. Students in vulnerable positions should not have to be forced to answer direct and blunt questions about their intimate mental health state to strangers and within direct hearing range of their floormates. It can be intimidating, and there should be a trained mental health professional who can attend to the emotional needs of each individual in that moment.
The college is adhering to the New York state mental hygiene law with its procedures, like that which allows students to be restrained, primarily with handcuffs, when they are determined to be of “high risk” when they are being transported to Cayuga Medical Center. Nonetheless, there is more work that should be done to reduce the likelihood of students who are in vulnerable states from being harmed.
Mental health stigmas have slowly been dissipating over the last few years; there is more research and more sensitivity to all cases. What we learn about mental health is continuously changing, and how the college responds and supports its students should continuously be changing too. Every scenario is different and requires less force and more educated and trained professionals. There has to be a balance. Having a forceful, almost aggressive, solution to crisis calls can be harmful. The current response to a call may — and have seemingly already — force students to remain silent about their suicidal thoughts or force students to hesitate before reporting someone they believe may need help. Students should feel reassured and safe when they are approached about their own mental health. They should not fear being forced to leave their room or support systems. The college has started to examine its response to students experiencing mental health crises, which is worth celebrating. The college must continue this work to make the campus a safe place for all.